UK - Thomas Cook has announced it closed its UK defined benefit (DB) plan at the end of March as part of plans to restructure its business.

In its interim results statement, the travel agent said it reached an agreement with trustees to close its DB plans to all active members from 31 March.

After 1 April, members of the DB scheme were transferred to the company's defined contribution (DC) scheme.

Thomas Cook also said the closure of the schemes resulted in a cessation of future pension benefit accrual, and operational costs have been reduced in the first half from £60m (€68m) to £13m, including a £24.8m credit relating to pensions.

The restructuring is part of the group's plan to reduce operating costs "in light of the continued difficult trading conditions in the UK".

The DB scheme had been closed to new members since 2004 and had 2,500 active members - which represent 20% of the workforce, according to Thomas Cook.

In other news, increased longevity in men has cost the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) almost £35bn, according to latest figures on the financial health of the UK lifeboat scheme.

The revised actuarial assumption was one of the main contributors to a month-on-month fall in the PPF's funding ratio of more than 4 percentage points, down to 100.2%, leaving it with a £2.3bn surplus.

Other changes made as part of the annual review of valuation assumptions led to a 0.2% decrease in the effective yield used to discount future payments, while the change to longevity calculations resulted in a 3.6% rise in overall liabilities.

Had the changes not been implemented, the PPF's surplus would have only fallen by £6bn to £37.2bn at the end of April.

Between March and April, the aggregate deficit of all pension funds included in the PPF's universe rose by £21.1bn, with the lifeboat fund pointing to a 17 basis point drop in 15-year gilts, as well as an increase in liabilities for many schemes as one of the contributing factors.

Meanwhile, buy-ins and buyouts have overtaken longevity-risk solutions as the second most popular de-risking strategy, MetLife Assurance has said.

According to a survey by the company, 34% of respondents are considering a buy-in our buyout in the next two years, with inflation increasingly becoming a concern for many trustees. Asset-risk hedging solutions are on the agenda for 48%.
Additionally, recent campaigns by the Pensions Regulator (TPR) have resulted in concerns about poor administration, with more than a quarter now citing it as one of their three main concerns, a 8 percentage point increase over the previous year.

Emma Watkins, director of business development, said: "The contrast between increasing concern from trustees about data and administration and a drop in the numbers considering data cleansing and member options could be seen as a success for regulators."

Watkins added that many trustees were taking action now, ahead of next December's deadline set by TPR.

Finally, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has unveiled a new measure for pensioner poverty, aiming to take into account not only their ability to cope with unexpected expenses, but also the level of social isolation caused by low income.

According to the department's research, almost all pensioners are able to afford at least one filling meal a day, while an overwhelming majority (87%) are able to absorb unexpected expenses of £200.

Additionally, 95% of pensioners were able to see friends or family members at least once a month. The DWP noted that child poverty in the UK had been assessed using such factors since 2004.